Monrovia – A stampede at a Christian prayer gathering in Liberia’s capital Monrovia has killed at least 29 people, including 11 children and a pregnant woman, officials said on Thursday.
The disaster occurred in the poor suburb of New Kru Town on Wednesday night or during the early hours of Thursday morning, according to media in the West African country.
Police spokesman Moses Carter told AFP the death toll was provisional and “may increase” because a number of people were in critical condition.
Deputy Minister for Press Jallawah Tonpoe told reporters at Monrovia’s Redemption Hospital that there were 11 children and a pregnant woman among the 29 dead.
Fifteen people have also been admitted to hospital, he said, including seven children.
President George Weah declared a three-day period of mourning and ordered an investigation, his office stated.
Details about the incident remained sketchy. Local media said the event was a Christian prayer gathering — known in Liberia as a “crusade” – held on a football pitch in New Kru Town.
Such gatherings typically gather thousands of people in Liberia, a highly religious country where a majority of the population of five million are Christians.
Pastor Abraham Kromah, a popular preacher, staged the two-day prayer event, which attracted large crowds, according to images circulating on social media.
Local media reported that robbers wielding knives and machetes attacked the worshippers and this may have triggered the stampede.
Gathering attendee Elisabeth Wesseh told AFP that “zogo boys” – a local term for young criminals – had threatened worshippers with knives at the entrance, demanding money and telephones.
“We got afraid and started rushing to the door,” the 34-year-old said, adding that the doorway was too small for everyone to get through.
Eye witness Emmanuel Gray, 26, told AFP he heard “heavy noise” towards the end of the event, and saw several dead bodies.
Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, is an impoverished country that is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003, which killed about 250 000 people.
It was also ravaged by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic.
According to the World Bank, 44 percent of Liberia’s population lives on less than $1.9 a day.
Accidents and disasters are also relatively common.
A stampede at a similar prayer event in the centre of Liberia in November 2021 killed two infants, and hospitalised several others, according to local media.
Seventeen people were also reported missing after a shipwreck off the country’s coast in July last year. And about 50 people died in a mine collapse in the northwestern Liberia in May 2020.
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